Not in My Humanitarian Crisis

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has just put out a policy paper, “To Stay and Deliver.” While the first subtitle was, “How to fully enjoy air conditioning in your land rover and the best spots to get martinis in crisis zones,” lead author and humanitarian expert Jan Egeland rejected that and, well, the large land-rovers and culture that characterizes humanitarian operations:

There is little point in an aid agency being present in a country if its staff remain behind compound walls or cloistered in safe ares and capital cities, unable to work with the people in need. The study recognizes that heavier protection is often necessary when a clear and present threat of direct targeting exists, which cannot be immediately mitigated through greater investment in dialogue and acceptance, or in cases where violence is perpetrated by economically-motivated criminal groups. In such scenarios good practice points to the development of ‘smart’ protection measures, which add a layer of security to the organisation but minimize negative appearances. In particular, humanitarian organisations need to do more to avoid ‘bunkerisation’ which distances them from the local community, thereby increasing vulnerability and perpetuating a negative cycle.

Not only does this paper acknowledge the detrimental impact of humanitarian operations culture, but calls for a departure from it. While this shift in policy posture should ultimately be measured by it’s impact on implementation change, it’s nonetheless a significant step for the United Nations worth lauding.  The important question: what to do with all those left-over inflatable summer-time party pools sent to the Eastern DRC and Sudan? Read the paper for thoughtful reflections on other good practices for humanitarian operations.

hattip to the scarlett lion for ever beautiful pictures of bunkered bureaucracy.


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